Top | Toro Bravo
(recipe, Liz Crain & John Gorham)
I pride myself on Toro’s balanced pickles. A balance of tartness, saltiness, sweetness, and spice is what I look for in a pickle. Growing up in the Southeast, I’ve always loved pickles. Folks in the neighborhood would give jars as gifts, and as a young cook, I didn’t realize it was something you could do in restaurants. Pickling was always something that neighbors did. At Simpatica, Jason Owens had this really hard-to-find, out-of-print pickling book called The Complete Book of Pickles and Relishes, by Leonard Louis Levinson, that he loved and guarded. He referred to that book a lot, and when we opened Toro, I scoured the cookbook shelves at Powell’s and tried to find myself a copy. I never did manage to find it, but I found old Fannie Farmer cookbooks instead. So we have the late Mrs. Farmer to thank for most of Toro’s pickles. They’re great books (especially for baking), even though they were written around the turn of the last century. Fannie Farmer and her compatriots used white distilled vinegar for most of their pickling back in the day, and it was pretty harsh. We use Champagne vinegar, which I prefer to white-wine vinegar because it’s more refined and mellow. We also take a light hand with the cloves, cinnamon, and other strong spices in our brines. We serve our thicker sliced pickled beets with our marinated olives as well as on charcuterie boards, with the sherry chicken-liver mousse, and in some of our salads. I really like them in the seasonal Groundwork Greens salad with fromage blanc, pickled red onions, and hazelnuts.
If you get a bunch of beets that are really varied in size, you’ll want to separate them and cook them at different temperatures and for different amounts of time. Roast the larger beets at a lower temperature; you want to cook them for a good deal longer and, in doing so, you don’t want to burn their sugars. There’s a really negative flavor that tends to come out with beets that cook at too high of a temperature. Normally I roast small- to medium-size beets at 350 degrees, but for the larger ones, go lower and slower. At Toro, we remove the beets from the oven and immediately put ice on top of them so that we can peel them sooner, while they’re still warm.